Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (2023)

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How it improves sleep, additional health benefits, and why timing is crucial

Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (1)

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Danielle Pacheco, Staff Writer

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Heather Wright, Pathologist

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Exercise is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Even small amounts of physical activity can improve your mood and cognitive function, alleviate anxiety, and decrease your risk of diseases and other medical conditions. Studies have also found that physical activity helps people sleep better. That said, how, how much, and when you exercise will affect your sleep in different ways.

Additionally, a good night’s sleep is important for those who exercise regularly. Sleep allows your body to recover from the previous day. Getting enough rest after a workout strengthens your muscles and tissues, which can help you avoid fatigue and exercise-related injuries. Conversely, poor sleep may lead to lower physical activity levels during the day.

Does Physical Activity Help You Sleep Better?

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Numerous studies have explored the link between exercise and sleep, and most conclude that certain types of physical activity improve sleep quality and duration. Interestingly, other forms of exercise can decrease sleep quality and prevent us from getting enough rest.

The best exercise to improve sleep largely depends on how old you are. For instance, some studies have found that moderate exercise training over the course of several weeks can improve sleep quality and duration for adolescents, whereas vigorous exercise during the same timespan has been shown to decrease sleep duration for some teens.

(Video) Sleep 101 - Sleep And Physical Activity

Regular exercise can help healthy adults sleep better. While acute physical activity can have a small effect on sleep quality and duration, regular, moderate exercise can extend sleep duration, improve sleep quality, and decrease sleep onset, or the time it takes to fall asleep.

For adults with sleep disorders, exercise needs may be a bit different. One study found that moderate resistance training and stretching exercises are beneficial to people with insomnia. Similarly, subjects who participated in moderate aerobic sessions reported decreased sleep onset, fewer waking episodes during the night, longer sleep duration, more sleep efficiency, and less overall anxiety.

Other Health Benefits of Physical Activity

In addition to helping you sleep better, regular exercise also provides the following benefits:

  • Improved Endurance: Certain aerobic activities can increase your heart and breathing rates, which is important for healthy cardiovascular, respiratory, and circulatory function. Endurance exercises include running or brisk walking, swimming, and cycling.
  • Stronger Bones and Muscles: Weightlifting and other strength-building exercises can increase your muscle mass. For older adults, physical activity also keeps bones and joints in good shape. This can counteract the loss of bone density, which naturally occurs with age, and decrease the risk of a hip fracture during a fall.
  • Increased Balance and Flexibility: Balancing exercises like tai chi make it easier for you to walk on uneven surfaces and reduce your risk of falling and injuring yourself. Yoga and other stretching exercises help your body remain limber.
  • Weight Management: Exercising allows you to burn the calories you consume from eating and drinking. The right amount of exercise depends on your body type, since some people require more physical activity to burn calories. However, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five times per week is recommended for most people.
  • Reduced Health Risks: Regular exercise can decrease your risk of a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Physical activity can also reduce your risk of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Longer Lifespan: People who exercise for roughly 150 minutes per week are 33% more likely to outlive those who don’t exercise. Keep in mind that you don’t need to overdo it on physical activity in order to be healthy. Even small bursts of moderate to vigorous exercise can benefit your overall health.

When Should You Exercise?

The timing of your workout is crucial to sleep. Aerobic workouts in the early morning have been shown to improve sleep quality to a greater extent than the same workouts in the afternoon or evening. Exercising in the morning has also been linked to more time spent in slow-wave sleep. A daytime walk lasting 10 minutes or longer can also improve your sleep that night.

A good rule-of-thumb is to avoid strenuous exercise within three hours of your scheduled bedtime. Working out late in the day can raise your body temperature, which in turn may impact sleep onset and how well you sleep. Some studies have even concluded that high-intensity workouts within an hour of bedtime can negatively affect sleep time and sleep efficiency.

Yoga and other stretching exercises may be more suitable evening exercises, as they promote feelings of relaxation and can improve sleep quality. Alternatively, you can alleviate physical tension before bed using progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

To learn more about physical activity and sleep, please visit the guides listed below.

About Our Editorial Team

Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (8)
Danielle Pacheco

Staff Writer

Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.

Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (9)
Heather Wright

Pathologist

(Video) Sleep & You: Nutrition, Physical Activity & Sleep

MD

Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.

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FAQs

How does physical activity affect your sleep? ›

Research Shows Exercise Decreases Insomnia

Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills.

How does physical activity and adequate sleep affect one's mental health? ›

Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety as well as improve sleep. There's no evidence that any one kind of exercise choice has a greater impact on Depression than others. It appears that any form of exercise can help Depression.

How does sleep affect your daily life? ›

Research suggests that sleep plays an important role in learning, memory, mood, and judgment. Sleep affects how well you perform when you are awake—both your daily work and athletic performance. The amount of time you sleep as well as the quality of your sleep are both important.

Why is sleep the foundation of health? ›

Sleep is an essential and involuntary process, without which we cannot function effectively. It is as essential to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing, and is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health. Sleeping helps to repair and restore our brains, not just our bodies.

What are the benefits of sleep? ›

Why is getting enough sleep important?
  • Get sick less often.
  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Lower your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease.
  • Reduce stress and improve your mood.
  • Think more clearly and do better in school and at work.
  • Get along better with people.
1 Aug 2021

Why sleep is more important than exercise? ›

STUDIES SHOW THAT SLEEP HELPS YOUR BODY REGENERATE

Sleep maintains your mental and physical health, helps your body recover, and strengthens your immune system. If we were to judge based on this aspect alone, we would have to say that sleep is more important than exercise.

How does physical activity affect your personal health? ›

Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.

How does regular exercise help to reduce the effect of mental stress? ›

Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits. It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity may help bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.

How can sleep affect stress? ›

Sleep decreases cortisol levels

A lack of sleep can cause the body to react as if it's in distress, releasing more of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for your fight or flight reaction to danger, increasing your heart rate in anticipation of a fight.

What happens when you don't sleep enough? ›

Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression, reduced immune system function and lower sex drive.

Why is sleep important mental health? ›

If you're having problems sleeping, you might: be more likely to feel anxious, depressed or suicidal. be more likely to have psychotic episodes – poor sleep can trigger mania, psychosis or paranoia, or make existing symptoms worse.

Why is sleep so important at night? ›

Sleep helps your body and brain function properly. A good night's sleep can help improve your learning, memory, decision making, and even creativity ( 1 , 2, 3, 4 , 5). What's more, getting insufficient sleep has been linked to a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (6).

What is the power of sleep? ›

Restorative sleep is critical to the maintenance, repair, and overall health of our bodies. Our brains need rest too. With the right amount of sleep, the brain will be able to focus better and have more memory retention.

What is the best time to sleep? ›

Research suggests the ideal time to go to sleep is 10 p.m. But you should focus more on having a consistent schedule and routine when it comes to hitting the hay.

How can I improve my sleep habits? ›

Some habits that can improve your sleep health:
  1. Be consistent. ...
  2. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  3. Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
  4. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  5. Get some exercise.
13 Sept 2022

How do you sleep? ›

Advertisement
  1. Establish a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. ...
  2. Relax your body. ...
  3. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep. ...
  4. Put clocks in your bedroom out of sight. ...
  5. Avoid caffeine after noon, and limit alcohol to 1 drink several hours before bedtime. ...
  6. Avoid smoking. ...
  7. Get regular exercise. ...
  8. Go to bed only when you're sleepy.

How much sleep do I need? ›

National Sleep Foundation guidelines1 advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development. People over 65 should also get 7 to 8 hours per night.

Is sleep the most important thing in life? ›

Sleep is a vital, often neglected, component of every person's overall health and well-being. Sleep is important because it enables the body to repair and be fit and ready for another day. Getting adequate rest may also help prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased illness duration.

Which is more important sleep or nutrition? ›

But sleep quality may actually be the most important factor predicting good mental health, more so than hours slept, physical activity, and diet, according to a new study of young adults from researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Why is sleep more important than food? ›

Sleep increases your mental function and memory.

Sleeping improves your ability to think clearly, make sound decisions, and learn things more quickly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, consistently sleeping seven to nine hours per night also increases mental agility and memory.

How physical activity affect a person's character and behavior? ›

Adults who get more physical activity are more likely to show positive personality traits, such as openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (wanting to do things well). The more active people are, the more these traits develop positively, into and through adulthood.

What is physical activity give an example? ›

Some examples of physical activity are:

Going for a walk, bike, or run (join our indoor walking program). Doing household chores. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Playing at the park.

How do you relieve stress and anxiety? ›

Advertisement
  1. Get active. Virtually any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever. ...
  2. Meditate. ...
  3. Laugh more. ...
  4. Connect with others. ...
  5. Assert yourself. ...
  6. Try yoga. ...
  7. Get enough sleep. ...
  8. Keep a journal.

Can too much exercise affect sleep? ›

Overtraining often leads to insomnia, which can be debilitating for athletes in particular. “Sleep is when you produce the hormones that facilitate muscle building and recovery,” says Lyons.

Does exercising at night affect sleep? ›

They found that not only did evening exercise not affect sleep, it seemed to help people fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep. However, those who did high-intensity exercise — such as interval training — less than one hour before bedtime took longer to fall asleep and had poorer sleep quality.

How can participation in sports help with sleeping? ›

Sport and other forms of physical activity improve the quality of sleep. It does this by helping you fall asleep faster and deepening your sleep. Sleeping better can improve your mental outlook the next day, as well as improving your mood.

Does exercising at night help you sleep? ›

Multiple studies have found that evening exercise improves sleep quality16 by helping people fall asleep faster, reducing nighttime awakenings, and increasing the time spent in slow-wave sleep.

What is the best time to sleep? ›

Research suggests the ideal time to go to sleep is 10 p.m. But you should focus more on having a consistent schedule and routine when it comes to hitting the hay.

What affects quality of sleep? ›

External factors, such as what we eat and drink, the medications we take, and the environment in which we sleep can also greatly affect the quantity and quality of our sleep. In general, all of these factors tend to increase the number of awakenings and limit the depth of sleep.

What is the best time to exercise? ›

Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., your body temperature is at its highest. This may mean you'll be exercising during the window of time your body is most ready, potentially making it the most effective time of day to work out.

Should I exercise or sleep? ›

Making the Choice: Sleep or Exercise

If you're really sleep-deprived, meaning you've slept too few hours or slept poorly for consecutive nights, you should choose more sleep. Otherwise, exercise is the best choice. “Thirty minutes of exercise is more impactful health-wise than 30 minutes of extra sleep,” Kline says.

Is it good to sleep after workout? ›

Taking a nap after exercise can support muscle recovery. When you sleep, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone. Your muscles need this hormone to repair and build tissue. This is essential for muscle growth, athletic performance, and reaping the benefits of physical activity.

Is it good to drink water before bed? ›

It's important to drink enough water during the day, however, it can be disruptive if you drink directly before bed. Avoid drinking water or any other fluids at least two hours before sleeping to prevent waking up at night.

Why does lack of sleep affect your body's performance? ›

Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can't perform its duties as well. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. The signals your body sends may also be delayed, decreasing your coordination and increasing your risk for accidents.

How can I promote good sleep? ›

Advertisement
  1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. ...
  2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed. ...
  3. Create a restful environment. Keep your room cool, dark and quiet. ...
  4. Limit daytime naps. ...
  5. Include physical activity in your daily routine. ...
  6. Manage worries.

How much sleep do I need? ›

National Sleep Foundation guidelines1 advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development. People over 65 should also get 7 to 8 hours per night.

How do you sleep? ›

Advertisement
  1. Establish a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine. ...
  2. Relax your body. ...
  3. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep. ...
  4. Put clocks in your bedroom out of sight. ...
  5. Avoid caffeine after noon, and limit alcohol to 1 drink several hours before bedtime. ...
  6. Avoid smoking. ...
  7. Get regular exercise. ...
  8. Go to bed only when you're sleepy.

Is it best to exercise in the morning or at night? ›

Your physical performance might improve: Research shows that most people function better, physically speaking, later in the day. Muscle strength, flexibility, power output and endurance are all better in the evening than they are in the morning.

Videos

1. The brain benefits of deep sleep -- and how to get more of it | Dan Gartenberg
(TED)
2. What Happens To Your Body And Brain If You Don't Get Sleep | The Human Body
(Tech Insider)
3. Does exercise help decrease insomnia?
(Osmosis)
4. How Sleep Affects Your Gains (And How To Get More Of It!)
(Jeremy Ethier)
5. Why is sleep important? - Wellbeing video
(Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust)
6. How do lifestyle factors (sleep, diet, and exercise) affect learning?
(Ray Pastore, Ph.D.)
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